Review: Shadow of A Dead Star by Michael Shean

As an agent of the Industrial Security Bureau, it is Thomas Walken’s duty to keep the city of Seattle free of black-market technology.  But when a trio of living sex-dolls he has recently intercepted are stolen from custody, Walken finds himself seeking a great deal more than just contraband; he will be forced to use his skills and preternatural instincts to try and keep his career, his freedom, and his life.  As questions mount and the list of living suspects begin to shrink with alarming speed, Walken must hurry to find the truth – but finding it will challenge his understanding not only of the world in which he lives, but of a world which may exist beyond it for which he cannot be prepared.

A dark and brooding tale, Shadow of a Dead Star follows one man’s plunge through depravity, vice, and ultimately existential conflict in a technologically-obsessed world of the near future.

Review

Shadow of A Dead Star is one of those stories I have to let simmer in my subconscious for a while even when I feel a need to speak about it straight away. There’s plenty of reasons for such a reaction, but I think this time for me it’s more about direction and how many unsettling visions were crammed into it.

I use the term crammed for there was a lot of disturbing images present, the idea of the sex dolls made from children being only one of them, but it didn’t feel as if I was being bombarded with upsetting subjects to the point of emotional overload. The story isn’t about ways to unsettle the reader at all. The input was more about questioning and filtering the after effects, much like when you watch a movie with intense scenes, but the story itself is not purposely making you cringe.

I found this to be an interesting narrative to read for me because I’m always in two minds about a couple of the genres it falls into, cyberpunk and crime. With cyberpunk I’m never sure if I’m actually going to like it even when I think I should, thanks to how much I love dystopia and technology messing with the mind, but there are other aspects I’m not sure about. Crime fiction is something I’m usually only won over with if it has a supernatural, or paranormal edge to it, or has something to do with serial killers.

The crime story didn’t interest me so much as the conspiracy behind it and the tantalising glimpses of humanity being taken over by another force. There’s something funky going on the whole way through the story and that is what held me. Don’t get me wrong, the crime concept is an interesting one and would definitely make a good crime story in itself, but there was a definite loss of focus in importance with that area when it came to Walken questioning everything.

When it comes to the cyberpunk side of things, I believe this is where I really appreciated the story, and I find myself wanting to read more in the genre because of it. There were components to the technological side of it which reminded me of awesome games (thanks to not reading genres like this in books) I have played and loved, like Mass Effect, and if a book is going to remind me of ME then I’m pretty much hooked by that alone. That’s not all it has going for it, but the point of my little digression was I’m now interested in discovering more cyberpunk because of Shadow of A Dead Star.

As for the characters, I don’t like Walken who is the main protagonist, but he is still readable.  He has a purpose, there’s plenty of conflict and obstacles for him to encounter, so the story doesn’t lose out completely. And while I don’t like characters that say babe or baby often, I preferred one of the characters that showed up later on. It was when Walken went somewhere else that I realised this and at which point the momentum tapered off for me. The story appeared to take a different turn than expected, not necessarily a bad thing, but it felt as if the narrative was dividing into two stories. Due to being so close to the end when this occurred, the momentum and interest I had didn’t pick up again till right at the end.

And what an intriguing ending. Parts of it were somewhat predictable for me, but that may be thanks to my desire for a majority of stories to end a certain way, and yet I still loved the ending. It’s a definite cliffhanger and I’m so glad Shadow of A Dead Star is the first in a trilogy. I believe I may also be more interested in the story to come compared to what I’ve read so far. I have been left perplexed about it and I have a definite need to read the next one.

I recommend Shadow of A Dead Star if you’re thinking of dipping your toes into cyberpunk, have a penchant for fiction with a conspiracy edge, or like your mind to be messed with without going too far.

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